Matthew 5:21-26: Murder, Anger


21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder,, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire., 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny. 

  1. Introduction

Last time, we distinguished between moral, judicial, and ceremonial laws. Jesus explained how He came not to abolish but to fulfill the law (Mat 5:17). Jesus explained that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees (Mat 5:20). The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the Law but they are later exposed as hypocrites by Jesus in that they worked very hard to appear holy and righteous (Mat 23:25) but on the inside their hearts were far from God (Mat 15:18). In this next section, Jesus amplifies the law and shows how you don’t actually have to commit the action to be guilty of sinning. Jesus is actually elevating himself above all interpreters of the law and contrasting His true interpretation with faulty interpretations that the Pharisees etc. came up with. When Jesus makes pronouncements, his pronouncements are equivalent with Scripture itself (the same with the apostles later on 2 Peter 3:16; apostles ended with them and did not have successors). The first of these topics which we will discuss tonight is murder. 

  1. Murder

    1. What is murder?

      1. murder is the intentional and unlawful taking of life. 

      2. It is explicitly prohibited in the 5th commandment (Ex 20:13).

    2. What was the prescribed punishment or “judgement” for murder?

      1. death (Gen 9:5-6). Note the term judgement implies putting the guilty person to death through the due process of law – not through an unofficial blood feud.

    3. Why is murder so bad? 

      1. murder is unlawfully killing an image bearer of God

  2. Anger

    1. What is anger?

      1. orgizo: provoke to anger

      2. This term for anger means angry without cause. There is a strong manuscript tradition where “without cause” is added after “brother”. This phrase is viewed as a later textual addition but it nevertheless gives the correct interpretation.

      3. We know it’s anger without cause through the process of deduction because we can compare Scripture with Scripture. Eph 4:26 uses the same word and in that case we are told to be angry. It is unusual for human anger to be free from mixed motives and not be in some sense self-avenging. 

  3. Mat 5:22

    1. “brother or sister…”

      1. this refers to brother or sister in Christ – not biological.

      2. It is particularly bad for Christians to get angry at other Christians who have themselves also been spared God’s wrath.

    2. “...will be subject to judgement”

      1. Christ refers to one who currently stands condemned and is therefore in danger of judgement but judgement is not inevitable if the proper remedy is sought.

      2. Jesus condemns murder but goes on to claim that harboring wrath in one’s heart is also sinful and deserving of punishment (he doesn’t say it is as bad)

    3. “insults his brother or sister…”

      1. illustrates that anger is sinful

      2. “raca” - quasi-swear-word in aramaic; probably means something like “empty-headed”

    4. “...will be subject to the court”

      1. the Sanhedrin

    5. “”you fool…”

      1. moros

      2. carries overtones of immorality and godlessness as well as idiocy

      3. where unjustified. Jesus uses the same term in Mat 23:17, Mat 23:19

    6. “...will be subject to hellfire”

      1. Gehenna: perpetual burning garbage dump

    7. Some people see a progression in severity between these three illustrations but they should be taken as largely synonymous since they all three metaphorically refer to the danger of eternal judgement.

  4. Mat 5:23-24

    1. Jesus’ listeners therefore need to urgently escape this judgement by dealing decisively with sin. Jesus uses two dramatic illustrations (here is the first one):

      1. a worshipper who is called to place interpersonal reconciliation above correct ritual. We can’t guarantee reconciliation but should make every effort “as far as it depends on us” (Rom 12:18)

      2. “has something against you” probably implies a just claim and also suggests that this applies to situations where someone is upset with us not that we bring up our grievances with others who don’t yet know about them.

      3. “The Christian sacrifice is first of all one of trusting Christ but true discipleship will necessarily lead to reconciliation with fellow believers” 

  5. Mat 5:25-26

    1. The second illustration pictures an out-of-court settlement. The goal is averting God’s wrath on judgement day before it is too late. 

    2. “paid the last penny” this doesn’t imply purgatory as if you could ever pay your debt. We know from other parts of scripture that our debt is unpayable. The parable of the unforgiving servant, for example, owed an unpayable amount which is a metaphor for our sins (Mat 18:21-35).

      1. The “last penny” refers to kondrantes which was 1/64 of the standard minimum daily wage (a denarius) and the second smallest Roman coin in first-century currency.